Vitamins

Vitamins are organic compounds required by humans as nutrients in small amounts known as micronutrients. The term vitamin is derived from the Latin words 'vital' and 'amine', because vitamins are required for life and were originally thought to be amines.

As most of the vitamins cannot be produced by humans, they must be obtained from the diet. An organic compound is considered a vitamin if a lack of that compound in the diet results in overt symptoms of deficiency.

Vitamins are classified as either water-soluble or fat-soluble. In humans there are 13 vitamins: 4 fat-soluble (A, D, E and K) and 9 water-soluble (8 B vitamins and vitamin C). While fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the body's fatty tissue, water-soluble vitamins must be used by the body right away. Any left over water-soluble vitamins leave the body through the urine. Vitamin B12 is the only water-soluble vitamin that can be stored in the liver for many years.

Vitamins are essential to life and healthy living. Failing to get the necessary amounts of specific vitamins can cause deficiency states that are unhealthy and even dangerous. Thus, a sufficient intake of vitamins is crucial to prevent the development of deficiency-related diseases. In addition, some vitamins have a considerable potential in health promotion and disease treatment.


Nutrients

Essential for healthy living.

Health functions

Vitamins are essential for virtually all chemical processes within the body that create and use energy, such as digestion of food and nutrients, elimination of waste through urine and faeces, growth and development, and regulation of cell function.

Disease risk reduction

To date, research has generated a mass of data showing that insufficient vitamin intake can promote, in part, the development of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis. In addition, clinical trials have shown that vitamins in diet, fortified foods or dietary supplements are effective in preventing deficiency-related diseases.

Learn more

Learn more about vitamins.

  • Other applications

    Throughout the years, the emphasis of vitamin research has shifted from mainly fighting deficiencies towards health promotion and disease treatment.

  • Intake recommendations

    Health authorities in Europe and the U.S. have established recommendations for vitamins and other micronutrients that reflect how much of each nutrient an individual should receive on a daily basis.

  • Supply situation

    Nutrition surveys undertaken in several countries have shown that the estimated intake patterns for vitamins and other micronutrients vary considerably across Europe and in the U.S., depending on age, gender, and other factors.

  • Deficiency

    While overt vitamin deficiency diseases such as scurvy or pellagra are uncommon in people who consume a typical diet in developed countries, less obvious deficiencies also occur in wealthy societies.

  • Sources

    The best way to get the daily requirement of essential vitamins is to eat a balanced diet that contains a variety of foods.

  • Safety

    Though vitamins and other micronutrients occurring in foods are generally considered safe, long-term intake of very high doses of certain vitamins can be harmful to health.